Hal Roth - September 2009
Old News from Delmarva:
The Rest of the Story
With the words “Hello, Americans, this is Paul Harvey,” the late news legend began his tantalizing daily radio broadcast known around the world as “The Rest of the Story.”
Harvey initiated the segment as part of his newscasts during the Second World War. “The Rest of the Story” then premiered as an independent series on the ABC Radio Network on May 10, 1976.
In his popular feature Harvey related factual stories about a wide variety of subjects, each with a little surprise or twist at the end, after which the commentator would recite with a “grin” in his voice: “And now you know… the rest of the story.”
As I pore through old journals in search of yarns to inform and delight me, I all too often encounter copy that leaves me hungry for more, often for the ending itself. I want the rest of the story.
Allow me to share a handful of these where murder is the subject.
An Unlovely Christmas Tale
New Castle, Del., February 13, 1892: The trial of George Henry Hutt, Julia, his wife, and James Johnson, charged with complicity in the murder of Noah Benson, whose headless body was found floating in the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal near the Delaware City terminus on Dec. 25, has been continued in the New Castle County Court until the May Term.
One would think that when the calendar turned to May there would be another mention of the murder and the outcome of a trial, and there probably was, but I have failed to locate it in any of the newspaper archives I am able to access.
Whether it was the same individual, I do not know, but I found the following reference to James Johnson posted on July 23, 1891, the year before Noah Benson was murdered and beheaded:
“James Johnson, of Millington, Kent County, Md., was held for the action of the United States grand jury on the charge of sending a defamatory postal card through the mail.”
Another newspaper claimed the postcard bore “a message reflecting on the character of Charles Harris.”
Would you ever have suspected that someone could be arrested for sending a critical postcard in 1891? What happened to freedom of speech?
I want the rest of both stories.
A Hatchet Murder
Crisfield, Md., June 23, 1879: The particulars of a fatal affray upon the Eastern Shore of Virginia last week have just reached here. The following are the facts in the case: On Monday night, the 16th instant, Lewis White struck John Laws with an axe upon the left side of his head, inflicting a ghastly wound. The cause of the quarrel was a woman named Louisa Kellum, who had been living with White after having left Laws. White is said to have attacked Laws in the house of the latter. Laws died early this morning. Both parties were colored and about 30 years old respectively. The fracas occurred at a place called the Cross Roads, about two and a half miles from Onancock. White has not yet been arrested.
Denton, Md., July 12, 1879: Way down at the jumping-off place of the Peninsula, Lewis White, black, recently killed a man. The Eastern Virginian says: “Lewis White, the murderer of John Laws, has not yet been arrested and probably will not be soon. He is still at large and was seen at Savageville, near here, only a few days ago, boasting that he was waiting an opportunity to kill the two negro women, the only witnesses to the deed. He declares his purpose to send some other souls where the sulfur fumeth before he will be satisfied and defies any man to attempt his capture. We are told that White was within half a mile of the courthouse the day after committing the deed, and the officers could not find him. This is the third murder committed in this county almost under the shadow of the courthouse within a comparatively recent period, in the other cases two white women being the victims.”
August 12, 1879: BY THE GOVERNOR OF VIRGINIA – A PROCLAMATION: Information having been received by the Executive that, on the 16th day of June 1879, in the County of Accomack, Va., John Laws (colored) was murdered by Lewis White, a man of color, and that the said Lewis White has eluded arrest and is now going at large, therefore I do hereby offer a REWARD OF ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS to any person who shall arrest the said LEWIS WHITE and deliver him into the jail of said Accomack County; and I do moreover require all officers of the Commonwealth, civil and military, and request the people generally to use their best exertions to procure his arrest, that he may be brought to justice.
Given under my hand as Governor, and under the Seal of the Commonwealth, at Richmond, this 12th day of August, 1879.
Fred. W. M. Holliday,
By the Governor: Jas. McDonald.
Secretary of the Commonwealth.
DESCRIPTION OF FUGITIVE – Age about thirty-five years; height, about five feet ten inches; color, black; has short, irregular whiskers and a rather sullen expression of countenance.
Baltimore, Md., January 21, 1880: Henry A. White, colored, was arrested on Fell’s Point yesterday on suspicion of being the person who killed John Laws, colored, in Accomack County, Va. some months ago. White lived in the vicinity where the homicide occurred and came to Baltimore a short time ago. At a hearing before Justice Farlow, several witnesses identified White and settled that, though he was a brother of the party who is charged with the killing, he was in no way concerned in the act. The arrest was made on a description furnished to the city police. White was at once released and went away happy that more serious consequences had not resulted from his unfortunate family resemblance.
An Accidental Shooting?
February 4, 1899: A minstrel show was given in Friendship Church near Dover on Friday evening of last week. In one of the sketches given, a shooting affray was supposed to occur. Two brothers named Clark took the principal characters. Howard Clark was to do the shooting and Wilmer, his brother, the dropping. Instead of picking up the proper revolver, Howard drew his own gun and Wilmer did the dropping with a bullet over his heart.
A Knife Murder in Centreville
In 1902 another quizzical mind pondered the outcome of a then sixty-year-old Delmarva murder.
Centreville, Md., May 3, 1902: T. H. Gafford, of Church Hill, says the Centreville Observer is the possessor of a knife, once owned by his grandfather and then by his father, which is connected with one of the worst tragedies that was ever committed in Church Hill. The affair occurred over sixty years ago, and none but the oldest inhabitants know anything concerning the tragedy, which in those days aroused the indignation of the quiet little village.
The principles concerned were a man named Roberts from Bridgetown, Caroline County, and a Mr. Cox, whom, it is reported, conducted a hostelry on the spot where the clothing store of Fred Hall now stands. Few particulars can be learned of the affair, but it seems that Roberts had a disagreement with a man named Green and rode horseback to Church Hill for the purpose of killing him. Green happened to be away, however, and Roberts, who was looking for trouble, got into an altercation with Cox. After the altercation was over and Roberts had started home, he changed his mind, and driving up to Cox’s home, called him out. As soon as Cox approached him, he deliberately drew his knife and cut Cox’s throat. Cox died after a few minutes and Roberts hastily mounted his horse and escaped to Bridgetown. He was followed to his home by a posse and was discovered hiding upstairs. What became of Roberts subsequently is difficult to ascertain, but it is thought that he escaped the penalty of the law. On the morning after the stabbing, Mr. Gafford found the knife, a large, bone-handled hunting knife, lying on the pavement where the murder occurred.
Gnawed to Death
Baltimore, Md., February 21, 1845: Some days ago a murder was committed in Cecil County, Md. Since then the Baltimore Sun has received a letter from the spot, giving so awful an account of the deed that we might consider it untrue. It appears that his wife, Martha Shaw, has been arrested and has confessed the deed. She says that she had a fight with him and killed him with no other weapon but her teeth – tearing his flesh, ripping out his entrails and otherwise horribly mutilating his body. She was his second wife and he was upwards of eighty years of age. There is no appearance of insanity in her conduct since arrest, and all she says when questioned about he deed is: “I had a fight with him, and by the help of the Lord whipped him.”
A Murderer Escapes
Wilmington, Del., November 14, 1869: Robert H. Goldsborough, convicted of the murder of Charles Marsh in the last Sussex County Court and sentenced to be hanged on December 11, escaped from the Georgetown Jail last night by filing off his irons and digging through three walls. He was helped by outside parties who had a carriage waiting. He is about thirty years old, five feet eight inches high, slightly bent, strongly built and has light brown hair.
The Governor of Delaware will issue a proclamation tomorrow offering a reward for his recapture.
November 17, 1869: The Governor of Delaware has offered a reward of one thousand dollars for the arrest of Robert H. Goldsborough, the murderer who recently escaped from the Sussex County Jail.
November 18, 1869: We have received the following particulars as to the manner in which Robert H. Goldsborough accomplished his escape, and they leave no room to doubt that he had outside assistance in getting way. He had evidently been furnished with an instrument with which he sawed off the bolt of his leg iron, and this left him unmanacled. He then sawed out about eighteen inches of the washboard of his cell and dug a hole diagonally through the wall through which he passed underneath the jail (which has no cellar) to the space between the floor and the ground. He then picked another hole through the outside wall of the building and crawled through it into the yard. The yard is surrounded by a high brick wall, but by removing an earthen drain tile through which the water is drained off from the yard, and then enlarging the hole, he soon gained access to the street, where it is alleged that a carriage was in waiting for him, the tracks of which were seen the next morning.
Goldsborough is connected with some of the wealthiest and most respectable Maryland families, and it is supposed that sufficient means have been placed at his disposal to give him every facility for making good the escape that he has thus far managed so skillfully. One of the relatives visited him a short time ago and gave him a jar of preserves, in which it is now believed the instruments with which he sawed off his irons and cut his way out were concealed. The tracks show that the wagon in which it is supposed he was taken away went towards Lewes, but no other trace of the direction he took has yet been discovered.
December 11, 1869: Goldsborough, the escaped murderer from Delaware, is supposed to have been in Denton a few days ago. A man answering his description and the circumstances that followed appear to be very decidedly in that direction. If it was Goldsborough, he acted with a recklessness that is seldom seen in a person where the penalty of death is actually hanging over his head. The man spoken of hired the Sheriff of Caroline County to take him to Wye Mills and from there to a farm somewhere in that vicinity, which farm is occupied by Goldsborough’s brother-in-law. Of course neither the Sheriff nor anyone else in Denton suspected the bold part that was being enacted, but on arriving at the house, the brother-in-law appeared to be surprised in seeing him and remarked: “What are you doing here? You’ll be caught.”
We give these as mere rumors and not as authentic.
On the same date the Baltimore Sun had this to say:
December 11, 1869: Goldsborough, the murderer of Marsh, was in Denton today. He came in an open wagon accompanied by a friend about noon and remained until night, when he hired Mr. R. K. Richardson, sheriff of the county, to convey him to Wye Mills. By his singular demeanor he aroused the suspicions of some of our citizens, and he was closely watched while he tarried with us. Intelligence of the bank robbery at Middletown, Delaware had previously reached us, and some supposed he was either one of the robbers or a detective searching for them. Who he was did not transpire until after his departure, and only then by an examination of the effects he left behind in his room at the hotel.
Upon his arrival he procured a suit of clothes from the store of W. L. Taylor, never once seeming to care about the price or quality, being mostly absorbed in watching the door. He seemed to have plenty of money and flourished $100 and $500 notes in profusion. On his person were seen several pistols, and other weapons were heard to rattle under his clothes. At supper he admitted he was a half-brother of John Goldsborough, although he had registered as Bannister. He stated that he was from Philadelphia and expected his colleague today with his clothes; that they were on a gunning excursion and he had but recently left Chincoteague Island. He said he must go to Wye Mills tonight but would return before day.
All these strange incidents culminated in the searching of his room upon his departure, and his brother’s name was found written upon a vest lying across the back of a chair, and in his valise were found some chicken, old beer and navy tobacco – a sufficient indication that he had been camping out for some time or was preparing for it. Parties have gone in pursuit, and today it is expected he will be captured, when he will be turned over to the Delaware authorities.
May 14, 1870: It has been a matter of some interest with people generally to know the particulars of Goldsborough’s escape. We give the facts as reported from his own lips.
Between the time of his arrest and trial he had the liberty of the jail yard, and during that time he made all his preparations. He discovered the lower entry, and at such times as he could get, worked on his cell. The walls were left in such condition as to be easily broken, and on the night of his escape he had little to do except cut through the outer wall. He got onto the road at two o’clock a.m. and crossed the field to Howards’ sometime before he was in condition to travel. He was taken in a carriage to Harrington, and his route to Wye Mills was as reported at the time. He had the misfortune to get drunk at Denton or his escape would have been easier. He finally got to Baltimore on a sailboat, and some weeks after shipped to South America. This is the last we shall hear for some time of the cold-blooded murderer Robert H. Goldsborough.
The Milford Mutual Friend of Saturday published a statement, as it says, of a gentleman of Frederica, of undoubted veracity, to the effect that he met Goldsborough face to face at Bower’s Beach a few days since. The author of the statement says he arrived at the Beach about night, and after watching the fishermen for a few minutes, repaired to the hotel in company with a friend and a man named McGinnis. As they entered the barroom he noticed four men sitting at a table playing cards, and McGinnis immediately approached one of them, shook him heartily by the hand and addressed him familiarly by the name of “Bob.” A few minutes afterwards the gentleman from Frederica inquired of McGinnis who the man was he had spoken to, when he was informed that it was Robert Goldsborough, the murderer of Charles Marsh. On being told that he must be mistaken, he replied: “No indeed, I was in the army with him a long while and know him as well as I know any man in Kent County.” The game was not finished, but in a few minutes after McGinnis had spoken to him, Goldsborough jumped up from the table, stepped up to the bar, threw down a five dollar note and told the three men who were playing with him to get their drinks and the change and come on down to the boat. They all followed immediately to the bay shore, took a boat they had landed and went aboard a vessel which was anchored a short distance out in the bay. We have it from a reliable source that this same vessel has been seen lying at anchor for a day or two, a little below the mouth of Broadkill Creek and only a short distance from Howards’ house, where a young lady resides, who it is said was engaged in marriage to Goldsborough at the time he committed the murder, and where he first went after his escape from prison. It is said that Goldsborough has certainly been seen at Howards’ within the last two weeks.
Murder by Grist Mill
June 25, 1739: One Richard Gyants was convicted about 3 or 4 Weeks ago in Queen Anne’s County of Murder, but has since broke out of Prison. He had a Quarrel with the Person that he murder’d and was fighting with him near an Under-shot Grist Mill, and flung him Feet-foremost under the Wheel, with declaring he would grind him. The Wheel instantly crush’d the poor Man to death but stopt against his breast. Hue-and-crys are out after the said Gyants, with a Reward of Twenty Pounds for apprehending him. He is a rawbon’d Fellow and has one Bow-Leg.
You can reach Hal Roth at firstname.lastname@example.org